Some of the best taco trucks and taquerias are found next to strip clubs and porn stores. It’s not because perverts are better judges of tacos—I don’t think. It’s that niche ethnic restaurants need cheap rent. In Portland, 82nd Avenue, which acts as a major north-south thoroughfare and quasi-feeder for I-205, has at least three porn stores, a couple strip clubs, and a half dozen or more “lingerie” modeling joints. It also has several of the best Vietnamese, Chinese, and Mexican restaurants in town. One of its newest loncheras is also one of the city’s best: Los Alambres.
Putting “alambre” on your sign is like announcing you’re from Mexico City. Any word beginning with an “al” in Spanish has an Arabic origin. So it shouldn’t be surprising that an alambre is a kebab. But in Mexico City, an alambre is most often a stir-fry of vegetables you’d find on a kebab—bell peppers and onions, primarily—along with various meats, often whatever meats are being served in tacos. And then the whole thing is covered in melted cheese and served with tortillas. It’s a great dish to show know-it-all gabachos who insist that “authentic” Mexican food isn’t drowned in cheese. It’s a very popular dish in DF and even taco stands will serve it. It’s especially good made with al pastor (another Mexican dish with Arab origins).
The owners of Los Alambres are indeed from DF and they make an excellent alambre. It’s $9 and could conceivably feed two—not two of me, but two people with normal waistlines. It has carne asada, chorizo, bacon, bell peppers, onions, and is covered in perfectly melted cheese. Tortillas come on the side, though, unfortunately, aren’t made by hand. (However, they would rarely be made by hand at this type of place in Mexico City.)
They recommended the al pastor, but honestly, it was fine, but not among the better ones in town. The meat was tender and they included pineapple, but it wasn’t trompo style and the meat was a little dry.
However, the taco del barrio was excellent. It’s the sort of taco you get from street stands serving tacos a la plancha—tacos of meats cooked on a big griddle. This was what would be called a “campechano” in Mexico City, a combination of meats. It had well-seasoned and tender carne asada, chorizo, grilled onions, and french fries. French fries? Yes, potatoes, whether stewed or fried, are a popular topping for tacos in Mexico City and most tacos a la plancha joints will have them in some form, even if it’s just for bistek con papas. For the latter, french fries are the most common way you’ll receive your taco tuber.
But perhaps where they excel the most is with tortas. They have a massive list of sandwiches with nearly any imaginable combination of meats and cheeses. A good place to start, though, is with their pambazo (sometimes “panbazo”, pictured at the beginning of this post). Their version of the pambazo, a Mexico City specialty, is made with the traditional potatoes and chorizo inside, along with sour cream, lettuce, and salsa. The bread is dipped in a red chile sauce and then the whole sandwich is lightly grilled. The flavors, especially inside, of Los Alambres’ version is quite good—the chorizo spicy, the potatoes almost creamy. A little more chile sauce on the bread and a little more grilling would be welcome, but it’s a very good sanwich.
Even better, though, is the torta cubana. The torta cubana has nothing to do with the Cuban sandwich of Tampa, Florida. In Mexico, a cubana is a kitchen sink sandwich containing multiple meats and cheeses. It’s their version of a dagwood. This is the only version in Portland to rival that of La Catrina’s (you’ll have to wait for a future post for that one). Milanesa, ham, hot dog, queso fresco, head cheese, melted cheese, chorizo, and egg, plus avocado and salsas—this all comes on a giant telera (flat torta bread) for $9.75. I could only eat half, but I wanted to eat every bite. The milanesa is especially good. It was more tender than most chicken fried steaks I’ve had. Just a great sandwich.
All the standard tacos are here, too. Burritos, flautas, quesadillas can be ordered as well. There are also more specials seldom seen at a taco truck, such as chicharron preparados and choriqueso. On Friday’s, they’ve started selling tacos de canasta as well, one of only a couple places in Portland you can find them. Tacos de canasta are, literally, basket tacos. In Mexico City, you’ll see vendors carrying baskets and piled inside are small, moist tacos filled with various mixtures of refried beans, stewed pork skin, cheese, potato, chorizo, etc. Los Alambres currently offers two fillings: chicharron prensado or chorizo with beans and potatoes. If you’re looking to meat some Chilangos, just show up on a Friday when they descend on Los Alambres for their tacos de canasta fix.
It’s a good addition to one of Portland’s best streets for eating. And it’s one of Portland’s best loncheras.Los Alambres
1134 SE 82nd Ave
Portland, OR 97216